Raila Odinga: The king of political comebacks

Azimio leader Raila Odinga speaking during interview with Standard Group on high cost of living. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Second chances and political revivals are close to ODM leader Raila Odinga’s political heart and has molded him to be the proverbial cat with nine lives in the country’s politics.

For a man whose political career has experienced extreme lows and moderate highs, albeit with failures to clinch the country’s presidency despite five attempts, he is back with another script of political revival.

When he lost the 2022 presidential election to President William Ruto, many had anticipated that the loss was the last time they would be seeing the ODM chief in active politics.

And for Kenya Kwanza, their goal of sending Raila back to his Opoda home in Bondo for political retirement had finally peaked after the Supreme Court confirmed their win.

But this is not the case. The king of comebacks is back at the continental stage and in a different and higher political field involving 54 States and a host of competing regional interests.

So baffling is Raila’s latest revival that his political nemesis and competitors in the 2022 General Elections are among those at the forefront in leading the push for his candidature.

Should this come true, observers and his allies believe Raila will entrench his name as one of the kings of political comebacks in the country’s history and retire as a continental diplomatic icon.

Observers believe that Raila has always been able to reinvent himself every time he has suffered losses and the latest shift in his political career is because of his dedication and spirit. He has been able to remain political relevant for more than four decades.

According to political analyst Mark Bichachi, Raila’s rebirth and focus on the continental opportunity is a chance for the ODM leader to complete his political journey in a respectable position.

“The AU position is a respectable position, which will be a graceful exit to Kenyan politics,” says Bichachi.

Bichachi believes this could be Raila’s last comeback but is not ruling out his chances of returning to Kenyan politics even after he clinches and serves the AU.

“It will be untraditional. It is almost like being a Secretary General of the United Nations and then coming back to run for the presidency. It will just seem untidy,” he says.

According to constitutional lawyer and political observer Bruce Odeny Raila’s political profile will continue to shine bright even if he clinches the AU position.

When Raila Odinga boarded a matatu to Nairobi's CBD. [File, Standard]

“We do not expect much to change. He is still the leader of opposition as much as he will be heading an African organ,” says Odeny.

In the country, despite losing five elections even after painstakingly convincing friend and foe to back his bid, the ODM leader has always bounced back to rejuvenate his support bases.

It is a script that dates back to the 1990’s when he first thrust himself into the murky waters of politics and led a group of allies to quit the once-powerful Ford-Kenya.

Raila, who had just won a parliamentary seat in Lang’ata after being released from political detention, was then trying his hands at national politics.

It is here that Raila’s political revivals began as Ford Kenya held its elections to replace its chairman, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, who had died a year earlier.

It was a tough contest between the party’s first Vice Chairman Kijana Wamalwa and Raila. At the time, whoever won the seat would be the frontrunner to fly the party’s ticket in the 1997 General Elections.

But in a twist, chaos broke at Thika stadium and the aftermath was that Raila would walk a lonely path after breaking ranks with the party and leading a walkout.

At the time, many believed that his career and visions to become a mainstay in the country’s politics was dead on arrival and his chances of ever succeeding his late father as the king of opposition was slim.

Key allies of Jaramogi including Siaya Governor James Orengo, alongside at least 10 Luo MPs had all shifted their attention to back Wamalwa, leaving Raila with only a handful of allies.

Raila would then form the National Democtaric Party (NDP) and ran for the presidency only to suffer his first loss.

A few years later, Raila’s determined political spirit bounced back and led a merger between NDP and the ruling party Kanu and became the party’s first Secretary General.

Raila would also later bounce-back after losing the controversial 2007 General Elections to Mwai Kibaki.

At the time, his political career had reached a climax and he enjoyed huge support across the country. Unfortunately, at time when his victory was almost certain, fate went against him and the ODM chief had to craft his political survival again.

When Raila Odinga then Langata MP and his Mathare counterpart Ochieng Mbeo donated maize flour to crash victims at Kirigiti Stadium in December 1994.  [File, Standard]

He became a prime minister courtesy of a Handshake brokered by the International community to end the ethnic violence that had followed the controversial elections.

And in one of the latest comebacks, Raila transformed his political exploits even after losing the 2017 General Elections to former president Uhuru Kenyatta.

The 2017 elections were largely viewed as Raila’s last stab and a loss would condemn him to a political abyss.

However, a determined Raila surprised even his own ardent supporters when he opted to enter into a Handshake deal with Uhuru and began the revival of his political ambitions through the Building Bridges Initiative.

In a past interview with Raila’s confidant and Siaya Governor James Orengo, the county chief said that the Handshake deal contributed to the formation of Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition.

Through this, Raila was able to rally several leaders from different parts of the country to join the Azimio political vehicle and set the stage for his fifth stab.

And now, in his latest revival, Raila is keen to rally all friends and political foes to back his bid for the AU Commission chairpersonship.

His allies argue that his political flower never withered despite the negative political fortunes he endured in the 2022 General Elections.

In the last few days, several leaders have thrown their weight in Raila’s quest to get the AU job.

In his ODM camp, all his allies are backing the move and believe he will serve the interest of the continent. Some of them claim he has outgrown Kenyan local politics and is now in the right political playing field.

“We need brains to serve Africa and he is one of the best brains,” said Rangwe MP Lilian Gogo.

ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna said that they are confident that Raila has what it takes to excel in the position.

“As his Secretary General, I congratulate him for the decision to go for the seat and I wish him well,” said Sifuna.

It remains to be seen how President Ruto and his Kenya Kwanza brigade will use their diplomatic standing in the continent to help lobby support for the ODM chief.

Additional reporting by Anne Atieno

By AFP 2 mins ago
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